Credit: Erika Wagner, Francesca Roh/Xtra
Pop Culture
7 min

The gospel of truth according to Latrice Royale

She spills the tea on drag’s diva-encrusted past and politically-rousing future

Latrice Royale is one of the most well-loved queens to ever appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race. A three-time competitor, she’s served high-quality charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent every time. From her famous quote to her iconic facial expression, Latrice has, time and again, proved why she is and will always be a Drag Race legend.

Outside of the Drag Race universe, Latrice continues to gain momentum. She got married last year, continued to perform on tours across the US, and now she’s preparing for the Canadian leg of her Shirley Horn-inspired stage show titled Here’s to Life! to serve us piping hot tea.

Xtra caught up with Latrice between rehearsals to talk about drag’s diva-encrusted past and politically-rousing future.

It’s no secret you love soul music. Tell me about making your song selections for your upcoming show, Here’s to Life! Was the experience like Sophie’s Choice or Rosemary’s Baby when it came to confirming your set list? 

Both! The songs that are in the show came from the divas I’ve been performing and lip-syncing to all these years. The tracks are part of a storyline that connect the dots of my life. I have my husband [Christopher Hamblin] to thank for helping me develop the show along and helping me relive my best life on stage. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a show but it’s so necessary in these Trump times.

Costume-wise, are there multiple changes? Is this more of a Diana Ross or Melissa Ethridge situation? 

Diana! One must have layers, right? I’m bringing multiple looks because I sweat. A lot. I’m being real here, but a costume might not be dried out from the night before so I cannot wear those stank-ass garments. Options, darling! It’s a high glam showgirl cabaret moment. Feathers, beads, rhinestones — every drag queen fantasy. So, essentially what Shirley Bassey wears onstage.

Is it easier to deal with the pains of the road with a husband? Or, is it more difficult?

My husband is my musical director and accompanist. He plays for me the whole show. He’s also the opening act for my Canadian tour. He’s bringing harp and piano and love, honey. He’s talent. TAAHHH-lent. It does make it easier. We created the show together and it’s both of our stories and souls on one stage.

Both of you have lived your life onstage. You even proposed to him onstage — which went viral.

Exactly. We are in full circle. This is going to be a great opportunity for him to give his side of the story because I’ve been blabbing about mine for a long time! The audience will get the information they’ve never gotten before.

Most people know you from RuPaul’s Drag Race. You won Miss Congeniality on Season 4 and the show is now revving up for Season 12. What’s the biggest change you see in the series’ evolution?

I’m looking at it with my glasses down the bridge of my nose. It has changed so much. The fanbase has changed so much. It’s so young now. Anyone who’s old enough to have a phone or a computer has an opinion. It’s crazy, the fandom now. Watching these new girls now because of the way the fanbase has changed, the way they behave in real time, they’re not themselves. They’re so guarded and wondering what they can or can’t say. It’s so PC. Bitch, what happened to fun? What happened to being real?

It’s a catch-22 for these poor new queens because if they’re smart and know how to spar and bitch they get hated. But if they don’t feud, they’re boring.

Right! But when they’re boring and they have no story it’s like, girl, what are we doing? What happened to being candid and drag queens cutting up and reading each other in dressing room fun? I miss those things. Now everybody’s so sensitive.

You’ve learned from the best divas such as Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and Tina Turner. What exactly was the biggest lesson?

Improv and spontaneity are where the magic is. Scripts can only take you so far. You can’t be so caught up in the work and not the emotion. I live in the moment and I want the audience to live in my moment.

Your drag mother is South Florida’s Tiffany Ariegus. What did she pass on to you about being a performer that you still apply to your trade? 

That woman was about her coin and her business. She would not waver on her value. She knew her worth. I learned that and I take that with me. She taught me to count every bill that I get when I’m getting tips for when I hand it off to a backstage employee during a number. You have to count and keep track of what you were given, even while you’re singing. It happened this weekend! If one dollar is missing from my pile, we’re going to have to have a little talk. She saw that I was taken advantage of, but my success is something she is proud of. I won my very first pageant at her [Drag Wars] contest. I would always get first runner up every time and never win the finals to qualify but she saw something in me. I’ve always been an underdog and I’ve always had to fight for my place. I’m still fighting for it! I have her fire.

Aretha Franklin. Diana Ross. Gladys Knight. Patti Labelle. Who would make the best drag mother?

Oh my god, that’s a big toss-up. Patti’s going to give you tough love, but Gladys is going to give you the warm love, that nurturing goddess mother love you need to get on stage. Those are the two that would be the best mothers. I do have to say that Gladys is the storyteller of life. She sets the scene; she brings you in with her voice like a magnet to steel. When I sing Gladys, it sounds like her voice comes out of me naturally. It really does. It’s just the emotion and she takes her time. I’ve never met her, but I know I will, and it is going to be beautiful.

You have so many one-liners that are ready for merchandising possibilities — especially your famous Five Gs’ [Good God, Get A Grip Girl]. What product would you like to see the Five Gs on? 

It would be good on a Fleshjack, right? Good God, Get a Grip Girl. It’d sell like hotcakes on one of those.

There is a theory out there — fueled by social media — that RuPaul’s Drag Race is anti-black. What’s your opinion on this?

That’s not a true statement. Are there struggles and a noticeable difference in how queens of colour are treated and accepted? Yes. It takes me a little longer to get where I’m going but I think that now the girls are banding together, especially when it comes to shows like Vixen’s Black Girl Magic tour. I was just in Chicago last week and I got to experience it. I thought it was just a stunt. It’s not. It really is pretty remarkable to see a full cast of queens of colour working together and bring on such a diverse audience that comes to watch. It’s a packed house. Everyone you could imagine was there.

As someone who nurtures your craft and goes above and beyond on stage, what would you like to see as the next trend in drag — things that go beyond the death drop and the big reveal?

Us actively making a difference in this world and motivating young people to vote and be involved in their communities! We need to make change happen and to protect people’s lives. That’s a hard sell, though. It’s not always glamorous to fight for your rights but we need to. It’s easier to just do the clicks and the snaps and the voguing and make people scream with your splits. I want us to evolve and be more politically involved with people at large.

You’re ordained as a minister and you hold court in churches and in LGBTQ2 clubs. Other than gospel house, what are the similarities?

People in both places are trying to relate to truth and hope. That’s all ministry is. You’re trying to inspire people to be their best self. I have a message to give and I’m going to give it, sometimes I do my little sermon in the nightclub, sometimes it’s on the pulpit. In my show, we go all the way to church.

So many LGBTQ2 people have a hard time reconciling their religious beliefs with their sexuality. You’ve been able to create a platform where both can coexist. How did you do it?

I’m a drag queen too so that really is a bender. I’d say it’s tougher to get over the internal guilt you have. That’s the real struggle but it’s hard work to believe in yourself. Once I let go of the old school church like I did . . . I realized that I knew better than they did. You just can’t make sense out of nonsense, but you can smell it a mile away. The one thing I was always taught was that my relationship with my higher power is personal and it’s mine.

The recent New York magazine story about ranking the most powerful drag queens in America made a lot of people furious. What are your thoughts on the way it was done?

Had they told us they were ranking, I wouldn’t have even been a part of it. I’m tired of being pinned against a girl, compared to another girl, ranked. They’re putting more of what’s already wrong with this world out there. It’s exacerbating the problem to me. It’s great to be mentioned but is it really positive? I don’t agree with the ranking — it is bogus. There were people not on the list that weren’t on Drag Race that should be in that ranking in the top tier in the world. Hello? Lady Bunny. Coco Peru. Jackie Beat. Varla Jean Merman. The list keeps going.

With this incredible new wave of queens, I see some of the history being erased. Do you?

Oh yes, it is disturbing honey. They need to know the Great Ones. We need to speak their names. Lift them up. Remind them every day that these people were here, are here, what they’ve done, and what they’re doing. The girls I just mentioned are still at it and still doing it. They’re successful. We’re talking 40 years in the business.

What do we expect to see in the court of Royale in the next 40 years?

The sky’s the limit. I’ve been dabbling in the writer’s side of the television, so wait for that. I’m also developing and starting to write my new show for 2020 called Colour and Light. You ain’t seen nothing like this before!